My Champions League Final Review

Last night we were treated to the best Champions League final in recent times. The defending champions were aiming to be the first club to successfully defend club football’s most prestigious trophy since AC Milan 3 decades ago. If that is not incentive enough, the all time record holders were attempting to increase their haul to 12.

It was a beauty vs the beast contest, Juventus the serial champions of Serie A vs the recently crowned La Liga winners. The Old Lady of Turin made it to their second final in 3 seasons on the back of typically solid Italian defense and a spring of solid tactical masterclasses notably against Barcelona in the quarter finals. Their miserly defense conceded only 3 goals leading up to the final.  The Los Blancos on the other hand blazed their way to the final scoring goals for fun. Their talisman forward Cristiano Ronaldo and world footballer of the year became the first player to score 100 goals in the champions league.

Juventus made a strong start to the game as they took the game to Madrid taking some promising pot shots on goal. The champions gradually got a foot hold in midfield and they took the lead in a sweeping move started and finished off by the imperious Ronaldo. This was the way the neutrals wanted it, now the ultra tactical Italians must come out to play.

If the Old Lady was stunned, it did not shake her off her stride. Mario Mandzukic scored a spectacular equalizer when he chested the ball and volleyed over his head into to the top corner beyond the despairing dive of Navas. It was a beauty, the commentators compared it Zidane’s goal against Bayer Leverkusen for Real Madrid in 2002. The match was very open and made for a great spectacle as we went to halftime level at 1 all.

If the first half was a 50 – 50 affair, the second half was all about Real Madrid. They went into beast mode and completely blew Juventus away. The midfield trio of Casemiro (my new favourite footballer), Modric and the Rolls Royce of a player that is Toni Kroos took total control of the game. Juventus simply had no answer and it was no surprise when Casemiro scored. In keeping with the standard of the game it was a golazo. A long range belter from all of 30 yards went in via a deflection. Just as Juventus were about to rally Cristiano Ronaldo confirmed his Ballon D’Or 2017 and Real Madrid’s 12th Champions League title with another goal. You could almost see tears rolling down the cheeks of Buffon as he watched the ball go in.

Real Madrid was not troubled for the remainder of the game. Their captain even had time to dive and get Cuadrado sent off in the most disgraceful act of the entire season. Asensio came on to score off some wonderful work by the excellent Marcelo in the dying minutes of the game. The night rightfully belonged to Champions.

One cannot but feel sorry for the Old Lady and their Captain the legendary Buffon. They have lost 2 finals in the last 3 years with Buffon’s bad luck stretching back to their 2003 loss to AC Milan on penalties. In what may well be his last finals every neutral was rooting for him as he winds down his illustrious career in which the champions league is the only missing honour. He is truly one of football’s good guys.

Juventus have been serial underachievers in the Champions League given their total dominance of the Italian game. They have only won it 2 times compared to 7 titles won by Milan. They have lost the finals more than any other club and they must be wondering what they have to do to win it now. I personally feel that apart from Dybala they lack flair in the team. Once Real Madrid isolated him there was nobody else. Higuain is a deadly striker in the box, not very useful outside it. Despite all his hard-work, Mandzukic is a Center Forward and playing on the left side of a front 3 robs the team both going forward and defending. He is not fast enough to go past people and dribbling is not his forte. They need technicians and magicians like Nedved. Dare I say, Juventus need a player like Alexis upfront if they are to take the final step of winning the champions league.

To a man every Real Madrid stepped up to the plate. They functioned like a well oiled machine everywhere on the pitch. They were solid in defense, creative in midfield and deadly in attack. With a relatively young team entering their prime and arguably the best player in the world in CR7, they look set to dominate this competition for another season. For a club that lives for the Champions League, these are the best days to be a Madrista.

What can one say about Zizou the Manager? Two Champions League titles in 18 months of management and the Spanish league! His legendary status is already secured even if he decides to retire tomorrow. He was as a player, a pillar of the Galactico era which won the clubs 9th Champions League title and the Assistant to Carlo Ancelloti when the famous La Decima was won. He bested his master on the way to winning this season and has proven that he is not a one season wonder like Di Matteo. He has blended youth and superstars to get his winning formula avoiding the fatal error of the Galactico era of making a place for every superstar despite the negative effects on team structure and morale. The man is a proven winner and the dynasty he is building in Madrid will take some beating. I will not be surprised if he leads Real to a hat-trick of titles next year.
I enjoyed the game even though I wanted Juventus to win. I join everyone in hailing the Champions #HALA MADRID. My prayers go out to the victims of the evil attack in London. We need peace in the world and we must condemn such barbarism.

One more road to cross, but a Bridge too Far: My UCL Final Review

What a game; let me be the first to say this about last night’s final; it was the first final I was left utterly disappointed by the performance of the team I learnt my support too since the 2011 final between Manchester United and Barcelona. Juventus were disappointing; however after writing that I feel I have disrespected the work and ethos that went into that victory for Real Madrid last night. For the first time in the Champions League Era; a club retains Old Big Ears; the last team to win it back to back in the Old era were, the second most successful team in the Champions League; so how fitting that the most successful team put up a performance that sets them a world apart from the rest; kudos to Zinedane Zidane and his team.

On this platform; we ran a predict and win competition for the Champions league courtesy IT Cyber Security giants; Digital Encode, interestingly no one saw a 1-4 scoreline in favour of Real Madrid coming; the closest we had were 1-3 and 2-4. What happened to the solid an resolute Juventus defense? What happened to the entire team; was it a case of stage fright? Here are my thoughts:

Gonzalo Higuain: Anonymous again

What is it with Gonzalo Higuain and finals? A quick check in my Webster dictionary shows Gonzalo Higuian as a synonym to anonymous.  Every single final I have watched him play; he ends up been a complete shadow of himself. Like it or not; agree or disagree; Juventus coughed out 90 Million Euros for the Argentine striker to aid them win the Champions League; but on the night the stars were meant to align; he was found wanting and had a really poor game. Juventus settled well early into the game; creating the first real chance of the game; you can say Real scored against the run of play; but Higuain was not assertive enough; I was more impressed with Dybala and Mandzukic presence and influence in Juve’s attack line.

Another disappointing end to an otherwise glorious season for the Old Lady and it’s Argentine forward; with this performance a lot of doubt would have snuck into his mind now and its safe to say he has the unwanted reputation of failing at finals, when he is needed the most.

Isco: Simply Magical

On the subject of Isco; a lot of credit must go to Zizou for finding a way to accommodate him in his starting eleven without tampering with his team’s balance. En-route to the  Final in Cardiff; many managers would have been under pressure to start Gareth Bale because of his ties to the city of Cardiff; thankfully Zidane was not consumed by the occassion.

In the last few months; Isco has been nothing short of magical in every aspect of the game; his inclusion gives Real some added level of reassurance and flexibility as Toni Kroos can join Casemiro to form part of a double pivot; or free up Modric to achieve greater penetration. With Isco in the side; the Real Madrid midfield can switch to different types of formations depending on the positioning of the midfield quartet; this ensures the likes of Ronaldo and Benzema have no reason to worry about defensive duties. This flexibility allowed Real to be able to stifle Juventus play in midfield; thereby rendering their main creative forces in Pjanic and Dybala completely ineffective.

In the summer; Isco can now sit down with Zidane and Perez to get a bumper step up in his current deal because he won’t be short of suitors in the transfer market.

The Stifling of Dybala and Pjanic

If there was on aspect of Juventus play that Real Madrid focused on it had to be the deceptive play of the Argentine youngster; Paulo Dybala. In a functioning Juventus team, the combination of imagination and trickery of Dybala and Pjanic make the Old Lady tick; once you stifle them and ensure their outlets in wide areas are blocked off; you have a great chance. You have got to commend the work of Casemiro and Toni Kroos in this regard; both ensure that those spaces Dybala would normally find and drop into to cause havoc were almost non existent. Every time the little Argentine dropped into the midfield space to create attacking outlets; you would find the Los Blancos midfield swarm on him like bees; it got more and more frustrating for the young man that he had to be taken off after receiving a yellow card.

Zidane’s midfield flexibility stood firm and adjusted to every situation as the progressed to attack and retreated to defend; ensuring that the Juventus wing backs didn’t get much of the ball or forced them to come in narrow; hence allowing their own full backs in Carvajal and Marcelo; time and space to join up the attack; a brilliant tactical master stroke from the great Frenchman.

A typical smash and grab

There’s this saying in football that goes ” you are more vulnerable to concede a goal immediately after you have just scored at the other end”. Well let me add a little twist to the saying as follows ”you are more likely to score another goal just after you just scored” and that was the case for Real Madrid. As Casemiro put his team ahead have a ridiculous deflection; Ronaldo ended all chances of Juve finding their way back into the game with a third goal three minutes later.

It was a proper Spanish job and upgrade on the Italian job; hit them whilst they are trying to come to terms with been behind; you set then even further behind the more; a proper smash and grab.

Zizou: Creating his own Legacy

Let us all enjoy this moment and not start bothering ourselves with what the future holds for one of the greatest footballers to grace this earth and now making a name for himself as a managerial great. Today, Zizou wakes up as the first back to back ”Champions League” winner; his stock is obviously rising; a lot of things would running through his mind now on what’s next. Good enough he has the full support of the fans and the club’s hierarchy; he has been given a free pass, plus some preferential treatment  as it involves tactics and we do know other managers took stick for doing some of what he did with this team.

Now, I am happy for Zizou because he has been able to freshen up this team from within; the transfer ban was a blessing in disguise. It allowed him take a chance on the likes of Asensio and Lucas Vazquez to very good effect. It will be interesting to see how Zidane navigates the transfer market; would his approach be a departure from the Galaticos system or would he embrace it.

A number of skeptics will tell you this is not his team and that he needs to prove his mettle in the transfer market; he can ignore all of them and just focus on continue to ensure this team is successful, whilst preparing a succession plan for the retirement of a player like Cristano Ronaldo. Like it or not; it is something that must be address over the next three years; even if Zizou is no longer on the Bernabeu hot seat.

Big Congratulations to Zizou has he continues to put up a fight for footballing geniuses as Managers; look at Maradona and Pele, nothing on the managerial landscape; for some Zidane is number three in that all time equation; he is pushing the envelope further and making a name for himself as a manager.

Gianluigi Buffon: What’s Next?

For the romantics and sensationalist; it was all about Buffon finally lifting Old Big ears; but as they say in life, you cannot win all the time and you cannot win it all. Yes some players were fortunate to lift every trophy available; some didn’t even come close to winning anything. Truth is Gianluigi Buffon has lifted more than most; we do not know if this is his swan song on the highest stage in club football, however one thing is for sure his legacy as an all time great remains intact and indelible for all to see and hear about for many a generations.

If Buffon’s legend was ever in doubt, just check how long it has taken to break his transfer record for a goal keeper from Parma to Juventus. Gianluigi Buffon; an all time leader, footballing and goal keeping legend; take a bow.

 

 

*** Pictures courtesy Squawka.com; goal.com; firstpost.com

A UCL night in the Lands of the Red Dragons

An assuaging night Awaits us at the National Stadium in Cardiff, well, not until hostilities replaces it at kick off where the Old Lady looks to outwit the classy Los Blancos from Spain.

Real Madrid are looking to complete a double for the first time since 1958 while Juventus are on the verge of sealing a treble for the first time in their history after winning the Coppa Italia and the Scudetto for a 6th consecutive time.

Juve, the Patsy

Nine times they have made it to the European Cup / Champions League final but won it twice. This says a lot about toothless the Old Lady have been when the grand price is at stake – losing to Real in 1998 even though they were the better side that night, the heartbreak at Old Trafford five years later in hands of AC Milan and two years ago when Messi and Co daubed them in Berlin are fresh highlights to how Juventus seems to suffer from a mental block when it duly matters. Real Madrid are a complete contrast to Juve’s morbid phobia to finals – they have won all the last 5 finals they played in.

That said, Juventus are going to be an extremely hard nut to crack due to a largely dependable basement in the defence. Allegri’s tactics clearly states a ‘if you don’t concede, you always stand a chance’ mantra and his players follow it to the letter.

Real Deal

It’s astonishing what Zinedine Zidane has done with this Madrid team and this is not blandishment, it’s due to how he has managed to get each member know their roles in the team – over 20 players have a thousand or more minutes in the La Liga; a clear indication that there is no fatigue of any kind in the team.

Real Madrid occasionally this season has subtly evolved from that expansive 4 – 3 – 3 to 4 – 4 – 2, arguably because of the injury to Gareth Bale which has made Isco line up in the midfield in proximity to Ronaldo and Benzema.

Team News

Dani Carvajal recently indicated that he’s ‘200% ready’ for the final in Cardiff after recovering from a muscle injury and looks like he will start ahead of Danilo. That can’t be said about Gareth Bale on his return to his native land, the Welshman has recovered from his ankle injury but I want to think Zidane will pick Isco’s nifty footwork and tunnel – visioned passes over Bale’s athleticism

Sami Khedira who looked like he will miss the showdown has recovered in time to face his former employers, which suggests that Cuadrado and Marchisio are going to start from the bench. It also means that Massimilliano Allegri has his first XI intact for the final however, the way he approaches the game is of huge interest. I suspect Allegri is going to field a 3 – 4 – 3 formation to stretch Zidane’s narrow 4-4-2.

Predicted XI

Verdict

On paper, both teams cancel each other out and it’s going to be an impasse for most part of the game but the bench will be pivotal to the outcome. Where Real Madrid can call on Marco Asensio, Alvaro Morata, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Lucas Vasquez when things go ‘moribund’, Juventus have Cuadrado, Marchisio, Lemina and Pjaca. Real Madrid don’t generally have it all in their grasp, they could be defensively inept at times. I go for a 2 – 1 Madrid win.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW: REAL MADRID VS JUVENTUS

After playing 12 games, in which they scored 21 goals and conceded 3, winning 9 and only 3 draws, Massimo Allegri’s Juventus befittingly take their place in the finals of the most glamorous club competition, the UEFA Champions league, the old ladies are up against the defending champions, the newly crowned La Liga Champions and the most successful team in the history of the competition with 11 Champions league titles, Real Madrid who are aiming to become the first team in the modern era to defend their title. The Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales is the venue for this epic showdown and due to security concerns; the stadium which is one of the few with a roof will have its roof closed for the game, which is a first in Champions league history.

Unlike Juventus, Real Madrid had a slow start to this years’ competition with three wins and three draws in the group stages but burst to life in the knockout stages scoring 16 goals in 6 games and star forward Cristiano Ronaldo finding form at the most crucial times with hat-tricks against Bayern Munich and City Rivals Athletico Madrid.

Key Battle Areas:

Juventus are a team strongly noted for their defensive discipline, whilst Madrid have gathered averaged more than two goals in every game played this season, with the likes of the BBC trio in Benzema, Bale and Cristiano, they pack plenty attacking power and whilst they mostly tend to concede, they more often than not always outscore their opponent , but the deciding area in this game will most likely be the midfield battle, where the trio of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro will be up against an ever impressive Pjanic, Sami Khedira or Claude Marchisio with the likes of Mario Mandzukic adding an extra body when required. Luka Modric who is one of the finest players in his position today has struck a solid partnership with Toni Kroos whose calmness on the pitch and near perfect set-piece delivery especially with the likes of Sergio Ramos roaming will always be a factor, Casemiro has done the destroyers job very well this season and has totally repaid the trust placed in him by manager Zinedine Zidane. For Juventus, it’s a work-horse system, a midfield system that can crowd you when it needs to with full backs Dani Alves and Sandro forming a straight 5 man midfield or could also transit from defense to attack at a scary pace when it needs to with Pjanic controlling affairs with precise distribution and link-up play. Whoever wins the midfield battle will control the game and this will go a long way in determining the eventual outcome of the match.

The unstoppable attack VS the Immovable defense, BBC VS BBC, Ronaldo is scoring for fun yet again, Benzema is adding the numbers when needed, Bale is likely to be passed fit for this one and with Sergio Ramos history in recent finals, he will fancy yet another goal in Wales but they will be up against the meanest defense in Europe in Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini, the trio backed by the ever impressive Gigi Buffon went for 689 minutes without conceding a goal till Mbappe’s strike in the semis halted the record and they will have to deliver another defensive masterpiece if they really want to win the finals this time. Also noteworthy is the role that the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Argentine whizkid Dybala will play in this as whilst they are more famed for their defensive solidity, they are also a dangerous team going forward.

The last time both teams met in the finals was in 1998 where Real Madrid emerged as winners but Juventus will be keen to avoid a repeat of the 2015 finals where they lost to another Spanish side Barcelona by 3 goals to one. A lot is riding on this game, with Zinedine Zidane seeking to become the first man in history to lead a team to back to back final triumph, and Gigi Buffon hoping to finally lay his hand on the trophy with the big ears after several heartbreaks. The bookmakers are calling this too close to decide, it is likely to be a game where the slightest of errors will decide the victor but it promises to be an explosive and entertaining curtain raiser to what has yet again been a great year for football.

My Prediction; Madrid 2 Juventus 1

 

A CASE OF DECIDED SEMI-FINALS and THE STEPHEN ODEY SAGA

The week featured semi-finals of Europe’s elite competitions with the Champions league and the Europa League in its last four stage, after the pairings were made, a lot of pundits and football lovers expected tight encounters with most of the games deemed to go down the wire and some even predicting that fixtures may not be decided after the second legs and may require extra time or even penalty shoot-outs to declare the winner.

Real Madrid VS Athletico Madrid was the highlight fixture of the Champions league semi-final round following the rivalry between both sides not just in the La Liga but in recent finals of the Champions league. In 2014, Madrid required a late equalizer from Sergio Ramos to force the game into extra time before going on to win by 4 goals to 1, then in 2016, both teams featured yet again in a game played at the San Siro and after 90 minutes yet again, there was still no separating both sides as it ended one goal apiece with Real Madrid winning after penalty shootouts. This time around though, a second derby hat-trick in one season from Cristiano Ronaldo who has scored 103 Champions league goals gave Madrid a commanding 3-0 win in the first leg tie and following how difficult to beat Zidane has built his team over the course of the season, rotating and adjusting well to games, there is no coming back from this for Diego Simeone’s side who themselves are naturally better at defending leads than over-turning them.

The second semi-final saw Italian Champions Juventus away at Monaco, the game billed as the battle of the immovable defense against the unstoppable attack with the ageing Juventus back-line of Gigi Buffon, Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini predicted to face their strongest test of the season against Colombian forward Radamel Falcao who has re-discovered top form and the sensational Kylian Mbappe, Allegri’s side however proved that they could find a balance between defending and attacking, two sublime strikes from Gonzalo Higuain,  both created by Dani Alves ensured the Bianconeris are well on their way to a second Champions league final in 3 years. Juventus shut out Monaco from scoring at home for the first time since November 2015 and whilst the young stars of Monaco will be giving it another go in 6 days time, the experienced players of the Old Lady have seen enough of games like this and barring a major loss of concentration, there is no way they will let this slip.

In the Europa league, Lyon were handed a thrashing by the very young Ajax side as their visit to the Amsterdam Arena ended up in a 4-1 defeat, on loan Chelsea forward Bertrand Traore struck twice with Mathieu Valbuena giving the French side an away goal that retains their slim chance of turning the deficit in the return leg. Ajax extended their winning streak at home to 12 games and are well on course for a final berth in Europe once again. In the second semi-final tie, Celta Vigo lost at home to English giants Manchester United despite having rested players over the course of the month in preparation for the tie, a well taken free-kick by kid sensation Marcus Rashford ensured that Jose Mourinho’s side not only got an away goal but left Spain in prime position for a final place, of all the semi-final fixtures, this looks like the one that remains very open seeing that a solitary goal from Celta Vigo at Old Trafford balances the tie and puts United on the edge but Manchester United have not lost a single game at home in the Europa League, they have actually won 5 out of 6 home games in regulation time thus far in the competition and with Jose Mourinho finally accepting that the competition is the only way to the Champions league next season and anything short of that will almost mean a failure in his first season, and also with the poor way Celta Vigo played in the first leg despite having given up their La Liga aspirations for this, it is safe to assume that this tie like the three others is also done and dusted.

The Stephen Odey Transfer Madness: Now just when a lot of attention is being given to the NPFL with so much hype on talents like Stephen Odey and Sikiru Olatunbosun, a reminder of the shabby and unprofessional way of the affairs of the clubs in the league reared its head again. News broke during the week that the NPFL top goal scorer with 14 goals Stephen Odey had traveled out of the country, at first his whereabouts seemed to be unknown but after a tweet from Denmark side FC Copenhagen during a game with FC Midtylland, things become clearer on one hand but also got more confusing on another hand following counter statements from his supposedly parent club MFM FC. The Manager of the side Fidelis Ilechukwu when first contacted claimed that he was not aware of Odey’s trip to Denmark and the payer had left without authorization, the club Director of Sports Emmanuel Adeyemi in a separate interview claimed Odey was on a facility tour to familiarize himself with conditions in Denmark (I find this as ridiculous as a statement can be), whilst the players agent is supposedly angry that his player is actually playing trial games instead of a medical as supposedly agreed by both sides. Amidst this insanity, the Media officer of the side Olawale Quadry in trying to justify how the club wasn’t initially aware of the where-about of their star forward stated that the Danish side called the club’s office landline at an odd hour when nobody was in the office to receive the call, hence they could not inform them abinitio, I find this statement not only embarrassing but also laughable. There is also the unclear issue of the ownership of the player, it has been days since this saga became public and there is still no coordinated response or official statement from the club, all we have gotten have been individual statements contradicting each other and making a mess of an already badly managed situation. This is no way to run a professional team and whilst many arguments may be  made as to the player trying to secure his future now that he is getting all the buzz, things when not done properly always backfire. The player has just gotten a call up to the National Team, he may well be the next big thing in the league but like we have witnessed time and over again, if the little details as regards his management and direction are not sorted, he may well end up forgotten without actualizing his full potentials.

How Maximillano Allegri has turned Old Lady to New Vixen

Following an utter dominance in the Serie A, Juventus took it a step further by spanking dark horses, AS Monaco 0-2 at the Stade Louis II in France courtesy of well taken goals by £76 million striker Gonzalo Higuain – a probable date with Real Madrid in Wales is on the horizon?

I will be taking a look at how the Italian gaffer, Max Allegri took Juventus from ‘local Champions’ to European elite in a short time.

July 16th, 2014, Juventus board and President Andrea Agnelli took a leap of faith in appointing Allegri after surprisingly thwarting relationship with Antonio Conte who has initially won a hat-trick of Scudetti, notched a Serie A high of 102 points but the frenzy coach (now in Chelsea) never really took Europe by storm only making the Quarter final in Champions League in 12/13 season and crashing out in the Europa League 12 months later. Agnelli wanted and needed to correct this, Allegri himself wasn’t a different bloke in Europe even though he had won a scudetto and Italian cup with the Rossoneri but the Old Lady saw something different which I thought Fabio Capello – which himself won the league in Italy rightly put out saying “Allegri’s ability to grind and adapt to opponents and injuries or even suspensions is on of his strongest points”. A vintage example was his quirky switch from a back four to a back three in the first leg against Barcelona to a back four in the second leg and back to a three yesterday against Monaco and still stopped this Antithesis who had previously scored 95 goals in 34 Ligue one games.

The cusp of it is how the players have endeared to his system game after game without flinching, building his team on defensive solidity and stability – a very rare happening.

If the Juve board is doing a perspicacious job of making shrewd businesses in the transfer window over periods when players like Andrea Pirlo, Hernanes, Paul Pogba, for a world record fee and losing Alvaro Morata to Manchester United and Real Madrid last summer ; they have successfully replaced them carefully and intelligently without being desultory – Allegri hasn’t moaned about the continuous exit of key players but in a faute de mieux attitude has continued to churn out the best from his team and has produced a cadence in the team over time. Diego Alves who came on a free has been a willing horse at RB / RWB for most part this season, not to forget his superb assists for Higuain’s brace – his ninth of the season and 31 goals in all competitions, Dybala consistently showing his wonder-kid qualities along.

Popular Football pundit, Biola Kazeem (@biolakazeem) took to Social Media in appraisal of how Juve has transitioned over time and still make something worthy off it. “Best teams in the world at squad building are Juventus and Bayern. They manage to build & maintain squads intelligently”. Can’t say it any better.

In our preview of the Serie A season here at Halftimeng.com; we were quite clear on what Juve’s focus would be this season asides from consolidating the domestic dominance Read Here

It is arguable that Allegri is no different from Conte (some Chelsea Fans have already predicted that their team will play like this next season) and even go as far as disparagement but it is important to aver and not adumbrate that the former has moved Juventus a step high.

5 things we learned from the UCL Madrid Derby

A classic Ronaldo hat-trick put Atlético to the sword on Tuesday leaving Diego Simeone’s men needing a miracle to book a place in Cardiff. Here are the things we learned from the clash at the Santiago Bernabeu.

1. Subdued  Colcherenos

This absolutely shook for a fact, never seen a Simeone team so bereft of ideas and for most part of the game brought their hog to a fine market when a proper performance was needed.

Gameiro – Griezmann combo that has worked the treat for most part of the season was esoterically lost on the night – could only muster an attempt on target all game. Diego Simeone himself cut a nomadic figure on the touch line, stroking his chin for most part – straying in and around the technical area.

2. Rabid Ramos

It’s actually  noisome when you know that he’s received 22 red cards in his career – humongous but it is also worthy to note that the ex Sevilla defender has a high class of hegemonic qualities when in the mood and he did it really well on Tuesday – Tamed Atlético’s forward for the major part of the game.

The back-line generally had a good game but Sergio Ramos gave an impeccable performance.

3. Queasy Godin

The Uruguayan stalwart had a nightmarish experience which honestly, should be marked in a book somewhere as the eighth wonder of the world. He was delirious at tracking runners, notably, was too soft to on the challenge on Benzema just before Ronaldo’s second goal.

Don’t mean to sound schadenfreude but his coach will feel massively dis-chuffed at how one of his trusted players let him down. Diego Godin was poor to a wonder.

4. Zizou on the brink of Making History

It’s arguable that the French Legend has swapped excessive ‘voluptuous’ football to excessive counter attacking football Howbeit pragmatically. Not sure Florentino Perez is a fan but comprehensibly won’t complain. Los Merangues are on the verge of making it their third appearance in the UCL final in 4 years, go a step further and win it back to back – first time ever. Looks A tall order but definitely not impossible.

5. Ronaldo hitting critics hard.

Every other time he has been pushed to the wall, he has managed to get monkeys off his back, he’s never one with a bundle of nerves. Just when people have thrown persiflage at him following a rather ornery performance at the El Classico – he answered doubters with a hat-trick which will be enough to have them in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo has proven he is still the man that can inspire – who doesn’t rely on reputation alone but never yellow bellied.

Five Things we learnt from the UCL Quarter Finals 2nd Legs

The Semi finalist for this year’s UEFA Champions League are now known; yes there have been controversies, ranging from rescheduling of a match after a terrorist attack to refereeing mistakes across all the Quarter Final ties; it did leave a bitter and sour taste in the mouth. The refereeing issues continues to aid the drive and campaign for the introduction of Video technology as it involves goal situations (penalties and offside decisions) and red cards and/or second bookable offences.

In light of all these; there were salient lessons for all to learn from in the second leg matches:

The Experienced over the highly Spirited

Atletico Madrid have over the last five to seven years joined the league of European heavyweights; for double Europa League victories to two Champions League finals in Three years and a stoppage time equalizer away from winning the ultimate prize. Madrid’s second team have gather enough experience and know-how to navigate their way through European ties; so when they came face to face with the highly spirited Leicester City; they took care of business; managing the tie professionally.

In the First Leg, Leicester were unable to penetrate the resolute defensive set up of the Madrid side; once Atletico took the lead, it was curtains and a great display of game management; Leicester did not have a shot on target all game. Fast forward to the second leg; Atletico got things started early with an early goal from Saul Nunez; but a spirited effort from Leicester City pegged them back for almost the entirety of the second half with chance after chance created and missed. Atletico’s superior experience and know-how saw them through this rather tricky tie.

The Pupil betters the Master

Carlo Ancelotti in delivering Real Madrid’s much sort after La Decima; he had Zinedine Zidane as his right hand man and assistant. On Tuesday; both managers were either side of the dug out urging their teams on. What differentiates Zidane’s Real Madrid and Ancelotti’s Real has to be the injection of youth; Ancelotti isn’t know for trusting young or youthful players in all his career; but Zidane has found comfort in making the likes of Asensio and Lucas Varquez integral members of his team and also making Casemiro the final piece of the Los Blancos puzzle; when previous Real managers preferred to send him out on loan.

Zidane’s triumph helps the French man depart from the past and away from the shadows cast by previous Real Managers; he is a Champions League winner and may likely win La Liga this season. Zidane is his own man and he has made this Real Madrid side his own; showing tactical flexibility in  both legs against Bayern and not been afraid to take those tough decisions.

Fine Margins

In the high stakes Sport of football; the difference between winners and losers has to be the fine margins. These fine margins may be determined by a refereeing decision either correctly or incorrectly called; a manager making a ”tactical” change at either a perceived right or wrong period in a game.

In terms of the Quarter final ties between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich; we had a clash that was decided by fine margins determined by Refereeing decisions. Arturo Vidal was wrongly  dismissed for a second yellow card for a tackle where he won the ball clearly from Asensio. Lewandoski was flagged offside wrongly in the first half and potentially the most pivotal of all the decisions was Real Madrid’s equalizer in extra time; Cristano Ronaldo was clearly in an offside position as he finished calmly to set the eleven time champions on course for another spot in the Semi Finals.

These questionable calls happen regularly in football; what is depressing is the Referees trying to even out their decisions; which for me doesn’t work. If we look at the Real v Bayern tie over two legs; you would see that Bayern too had their share of favorable calls like in the first leg where they got awarded a penalty which poetic justice prevailed or even their penalty at the Bernabeu. Bayern should snap out of it; in totality Real Madrid did more to win the two legged affair.

Monaco’s Youthful Revolution

Paris Saint Germain have spent tonnes of money to be where Monaco are today; yes at some point Monaco under their Russian owner had the same model. Thanks to his world record divorce, a change in strategy occurred and the club from the principality started to focus on the next generation of French youngsters. The likes of Mbappe, Mendy and Thomas Lemar form the core of youngsters that have taken Europe by storm with their fearless approach and smooth attacking play; the likes of Joao Moutinho and Radamel Falcao provide the necessary experience and guidance.

Monaco have scored a 140 goals in all competitions this season; that’s an incredible figure with a month of football still to be played; you write off these youngsters at your own peril. I have said previously that this side reminds me of the Monaco side of 1997 that had Thierry Henry and David Trezequet. The difference between this team and the last Monaco team to get to the final is that side was filled with experienced players all round; the likes of Jerome Rothen, Fernando Morientes with up and comers like Patrice Evra; this could be Monaco’s years.

 

No Scoring Boots

Big plaudits to Max Allegri for the tactical masterclass his Juventus team put on display at the Nou Camp; Catenaccio was reborn again on the strength of this performance, it was a clinic and Barcelona had no answer.

If there was any punter or Tipster service that predicted a scoreless affair at the Nou Camp; that person or service is worth a follow and I would like to have some of whatever they are smoking. For the first time in 50 European games; the Nou Camp witnessed a nil-nil scoreline. What was wrong with players on both sides; on a good day Messi would have scored a Hat-trick and Neymar a brace; Juan Cuadrado and Higuain would have had a goal a piece; but I guess they all left their scoring boots in their hotel rooms.

UEFA Champions League (QF 1st Leg): What I Saw (That You May Have Missed)

It’s not every time a football-filled month like April comes around. Featuring derbies in England, Italy, Germany, Spain, Scotland, April 2017 is a football lover’s dream come true.

Icing on the cake? Champions League football sandwiched somewhere in between the already-hectic football schedule.

The reunion between Ancelotti and Real Madrid, the clash between Barcelona and Juventus, free-scoring Monaco against Borussia Dortmund and lucky Atletico up against English champions, Leicester City.

Mouth-watering clashes, and I was already looking forward to all the action (sure you were too). Now that the first leg has been played, what events caught my attention?

Did history repeat itself? Were there surprises, disappointments? Who went into hiding while the stars shone? Here’s what I learnt after the first leg of the 2016/2017 UEFA Champions League quarter finals

1. The Case for Video Technology

I had to start with the controversial one, right? Well, since time immemorial, terrible refereeing decisions have always reared their ugly heads with each match-day.

And this UCL knockout stage round was not an exception.

Case 1: In the game between Atletico Madrid and Leicester City, Albrighton tripped Griezmann while trying to defend against Atletico’s counter attack. But, the Frenchman, running at full speed, fell inside the box.

And a penalty was awarded to the Spanish side.

Griezmann stepped up and scored. That goal was the only goal of the game.

Case 2: In Munich, Bayern Munich were having an awesome first half and were putting Real Madrid to the sword. In the midst of the frenzy, Ribery collected the ball in the opposition’s 18-yard box, tried to squeeze the ball past the wall of defenders and the ball controversially hit Nacho somewhere between his neck, shoulder and his arm.

The referee, thinking the ball had hit the arm of the defender, awarded a penalty to the Bavarians, even when it seemed his assistant beside the goalpost thought otherwise.

Replays suggested that the ball had hit Nacho’s shoulder. By this time, a penalty had already been awarded, with Arturo Vidal stepping up to it.

Fortunately or not, the Chilean blazed the spot-kick over the bar and sent the ball on a space mission (Zaza must have been applauding).

Case 3: Have I mentioned Mbappe’s first goal against Borussia Dortmund which he scored while in an offside position?

Yes, these referees are only human. Yes, they can’t see it all every time. And yes, maybe it’s high time for technology to become a part of football via video technology.

While there’s the argument against technology’s encroachment into football, it seems only video technology can ensure a game ends all fair and square, instead of teams benefiting from human errors.

Technology may take all the fun away. But, imagine for a minute, that you are a PSG fan. Now imagine if video technology was used on that fateful night inside the Camp Nou. You think Barcelona would have still qualified instead of your team?

2. Newcomers Can Only Go as Far as Experience Lets Them

I totally have nothing against newcomers stepping in and giving every other club a run for their money. It’s a good thing for football.

But, one way or the other, the gaping hole left by lack of experience, will always find a way to show itself off. And that was what happened at the Vincente Calderon when the Foxes visited Diego Simeone’s men.

For the first 30 minutes of the game, Leicester City were forced to play in their own half, no thanks to consistent pressing from Atletico Madrid. Vardy, Albrighton were both silenced. Okazaki was bullied with each duel he tried to win.

The English champions looked pretty shaken. Being debutants, it was good to see them come this far. Better still, they lost by a respectable scoreline. But, their inexperience on the night was glaring. They were overwhelmed.

3. Tactical Talk

I think the most exciting game of this round was the clash inside the Westfalenstadion, followed closely by the one in Turin and the titanic bout in Munich. We all know how “exciting” the match in Madrid turned out to be.

How about the tactics employed by the managers on both nights?

Carlo Ancelotti had his Bayern side well set up against Real Madrid from the word go. For the entire 1st half, Thiago and Vidal completely bossed the middle of the park. They dictated the pace of the game and single-handedly left Kroos, Modric and Casemiro out in the cold.

Thiago’s unpredictable passes were always finding one Bayern player or the other. Arturo Vidal was too busy breaking up Madrid’s play, intercepting passes and back-tracking. Despite sending his spot kick well over the bar, he managed to cover almost every blade of grass and even scored the opening goal.

Zidane, noticing how helpless his side were against these two, started the second half with more wide play. Marcelo got involved more and cross-ins became the order of the day.

And that’s how Real Madrid scored 4 goals (two ruled out for being scored from offside positions), and racked up 9 goal attempts in the first 29 minutes of the 2nd half after they could only manage 7 in the entire first 45.

While I’m hoping there’s no repeat comeback performance at the Nou Camp next week, let me quickly chip this in: the game between BVB and Monaco was a crime against humanity.

Sounds harsh? Maybe because it sounds like the bitter truth. Why force players to play a game just under 24 hours after being involved in a bomb attack? It’s not right, on all levels!

It’s understandable that money must be made and rules followed. But, can we also consider the fact that these players are human, not robots or machines?

Football is important alright. But, there are other things more important.

That being said, I eagerly anticipate the return legs of all these fixtures. I’m sure you can’t wait too. Who do you think will make it through? Or do you think any club has done enough already to qualify?

Share your thoughts with me in the comments section. I’ll love to hear from you.

 

P.S: The shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year has been released. Have you seen it? While there were only six names on the list, some names were deemed not good enough to make the list.

Let me ask you: What do you think? With Hazard, Kante, Ibrahimovic, Lukaku, Sanchez, and Kane making the shortlist, who do you think will be crowned player of the year?

Leave a comment (or two or more if you like) and let me know what you think.

 

Ronaldo’s Club 100,Video Technology Needed and More….. My Thoughts on Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League games.

UEFA Cold Hearted?

Borussia Dortmund players and officials on Tuesday experienced a plangent shock and unprecedented trepidation when an explosion rocked their team bus leaving Ex-Barcelona defender Marc Bartra needing a surgery to repair his right arm and left wrist. If this incident left me in a limbo, UEFA’s decision to have their game against Monaco go ahead less than 24 hours later sounded grossly insensitive.

It was obvious at the Signal Iduna yesterday when the game kicked off that the players were constipated psychologically, coy in possession, sultry off it. Dortmund players were on the pitch with the sovenance of the horrific incident, Monaco was always going to be at an advantage. UEFA claim they consulted Dortmund before taking a decision on when the match should be played.

Unhappy Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel said: ‘We were informed by text message that UEFA was making this decision, a decision made in Switzerland that concerns us directly. We will not forget it, it is a very bad feeling. How the Holy Grail of football organization in Europe become so strait and cold to delicate issues like this holds to bear.

Video Technology can’t come sooner.

Atlético and Bayern’s dubious penalties against Leicester and Madrid respectively including Kylie Mbappe’s goal against Dortmund are clear indications that the human errors in the game are becoming unbearable. I comprehend when cases are made that football is now played with much speed and intensity and that it’s easier for the fans who watch from the comfort of their parlors and pubs to criticize officials with the benefits of replays.

Image result for video technology in football
FIFA via the World Club Cup last December proved to the world it can work even more recently in the Friendly between Spain and France where Griezmann’s goal was correctly ruled out for offside via the Video Technology within 10 seconds. No recriminations, no fuss, no problems.

Ronaldo’s Club 100

Having not scored in the Champions League in 659 minutes before Wednesday night, last finding the net in a 2-2 group stage draw with Borussia Dortmund in September last year. Ronaldo has had a torrid season compared to his usual figures but it is also important to note that his coffin is properly nailed before dancing around it.

Bayern Munich soon found out in the most unfortunate circumstances scoring his 99th and 100th UEFA Champions League goal at the Allianz Arena becoming the first player to achieve that feat and etching Los Merangues to a spot in the semi final. It’s clear he’s not the speed merchant he once was but has changed his skill set into becoming a poacher.

His first goal was a classic example of it, peeling off Martinez’s back (subsequently got him sent off) to smash home from Carvajal drilled ball in, second was lurking around the 6 yard to stab in Ascensio’s delicious cross.

Impavid Foxes

Is it safe to say Leicester City Football Club is an enigma, few years ago where like a dying duck – languishing in League one and in that time frame up to now has moved to the Premier League to struggle, then winners and back to strugglers then to holding their own against La Liga giants and Two time Champions League finalists. It only took a dubious penalty kick to get beaten at the Calderon which makes the fixture delicately poised going to King Power in six days.